Some organizations are under the impression that the CDC has given specific guidelines on what to look for in a cloth face covering or face mask. Unfortunately, the CDC is rather vague on their guidelines, and it can be difficult to understand what to look for when shopping for a cloth face mask.
So, if your company or organization is looking for specific certifications, ingredients, or specifications handed down by the CDC, you can go ahead and stop looking. None exist.
However, we’ve taken the CDC cloth face mask construction instructions (which reads more like commentary), and added more information regarding comfort and health that should help you make a more informed decision as you go about looking for bulk purchase of cloth face masks and face coverings.
We’re going to break it down into four major areas: thickness, material, shape, and methods of securing the mask.
Proper Thickness vs Breathability
The CDC’s recommendations on mask thickness can be a bit misleading. For example, they recommend that your mask have 2 pieces of cotton fabric; however, they do not recommend any specific thread count or thickness on these two pieces of fabric.
They say t-shirt fabric will work “in a pinch,” but not all t-shirts are created equal. Same goes for their recommendation of using quilting fabric or cotton sheets. Cotton sheets and quilting fabrics can come in a variety of thread counts and thicknesses, not all of which are appropriate for making a mask.
The key here is in breathability. Remember, a cloth mask is not just about protecting the person that wears it. It’s about protecting those within close proximity to the person wearing it from an inadvertent cough, sneeze, or forceful exhale that could project microscopic droplets into the air.
Wearing a cloth mask forces the individuals wearing the mask to consume a fair amount of their own CO2. This can be an unhealthy situation at best, and a dangerous one at worst. Too much CO2 can change the pH balance of your blood, making it too alkaline.
The thicker the mask, the more the user breathes an improper balance of oxygen and CO2. Additionally, thicker masks have a tendency to fog glasses, retain moisture, and eventually drive the user to take it off or drop it below nose level. That defeats the purpose altogether.
So, generally, a cloth mask that offers comfort and breathability is the key to it actually being used safely. We’ve found that a cloth weight of 140-150 gsm is best.
As stated before, a quality cloth face mask offers a balance between comfort, security, and breathability. Thicker masks made of canvas are theoretically going to capture more outbound particles; however, they are radically uncomfortable, suffocating, and leave gaps around your face. Masks made of canvas, in our opinion, are pretty much useless. If you can’t breathe or the material rubs your nose raw, there’s no way you’re going to wear the thing.
3-ply masks also make it challenging to breathe. When wearing these masks, your exhaling air has to escape upward and through the gaps around your nose. Accordingly, they will have a tendency to fog your glasses (if you wear glasses) and may also trap moisture to an uncomfortable level. Moisture accumulation is a sign that you need to wash your mask and can lead to bacterial growth, which of course, can lead to other problems for the wearer.
Poly/Cotton Face Masks
The best fabric we’ve found runs around 140-150 grams per square meter (gsm). If you’re unclear on gsm and fabric density, this page has a good explanation.
At Quality Face Wear, the masks we sell have a gsm of 140-145, making them around the thickness of a lightweight but good quality t-shirt. Any thicker than 150 gsm, and you’ll start to see a reduction in your ease of breathing.
In fact, last week, two 14-year old boys in China wearing face masks during gym class died, because their masks constricted their breathing so much. Granted, they were running and had increased need for oxygen, but nonetheless, the ability to breathe is probably the most critical aspect of a mask. If you have a hard time breathing out of it, you either won’t use it or you’ll just pull it down so that you can breathe–defeating the purpose altogether.
Mask Form Factor
The second key factor to look for in a cloth mask is the form or shape itself. Flat masks are uncomfortable and have a tendency to pull around the nose and leave gaps for aerosol particles to escape. Masks that are shaped to the contour of your face are best. Ours are specifically contoured for maximum comfort and minimal gaps.
Methods of Securing the Mask
The final factor to look for in a cloth face mask is the method for securing it. There are two basic ways of securing a cloth face mask: through ear loops or via tie behind the head.
The loop method of securing the mask is probably the easiest to take on and off. Many masks have exposed elastic loops which can snag your hair, crisp up, and rot fairly quickly. For that reason, we recommend ear loops that have been stitched inside of a cloth fabric.
At Quality Face Wear, our elastic loops are stitched inside 190-200 gsm fabric (the weight of a heavy, high-end t-shirt), making them soft and comfortable–without tugging at your hair. They also help secure the mask snuggly to ensure safety and minimal slippage.
Many masks are secured by two sets of cloth strands that tie behind the head. These masks can be comfortable, sure, but that is because they are rarely secured in a fashion that’s protective. They are also the most challenging to get on and off. Again, face masks don’t really don’t do anyone any good if they are too loose, fall down, or aren’t worn properly.
The bottom line is that the CDC has recommended people wear cloth face masks, but there are no definitive guidelines or recommendations for the actual fabric, construction, design, etc. Hopefully, this post will help you make a more informed decision when it comes to ordering large quantities of cloth face masks for your employees and customers.